When working with leather, there are many tasks that make up a finished product; cutting, carving, stamping, dyeing, and stitching to name a few.
Some have the luxury of having many work tables, each for its own purpose, but many don’t and have to transition their work surface from task to task. I will share how I have a multi-use workstation setup as an example.
I have a solid metal framed table with a 1.5” solid wood top. I think it came from Sam’s or Lowes. It is 72” long and 24” wide. It is raised so I can sit at it on a stool rather than a chair. On the surface, covering the wood, I have a cutting mat. It is approximately ¼” thick and covers the entire top of my table. I also have a piece of granite that is approximately 16” x 16” on the table top as well.
The metal framed solid surface table is imperative to support the work being done. When I am stamping or carving cased leather, I move the granite slab (these are easy to source from a local countertop maker or if you can stop by Springfield Leather Co., they have them stacked up next to the door when you walk in.) to the center of the work area and begin to create. When striking stamps with a mallet, if the work surface is not sufficient, the stamp won’t make a crisp impression as the table flexes under the blow of the mallet. Make sure to always move your sla out of the way so it is not used as a cutting surface for leather or contaminated with dye. It will dull your blade or dyes left on the granite may transfer to other projects, ruining them.
The cutting mat is important as well. I don’t want the top of my table getting cut up. I have used a work surface made of plywood. When making multiple cut directly on the plywood, it begins to flake off. It not only damages the table top, but can also leave unwanted impressions in the leather project on which one is working. These mats are sometimes referred to as healing mats. It seems that even after multiple cuts, they “heal” themselves, closing up the cuts so the surface is still relatively smooth. These are somewhat expensive and other options are available. One can get these at sewing supply stores. They are much thinner, but they are super resilient and withstand many cuts.
When dyeing leather, I simply cover the area of the table with paper towels to prevent the dye from transferring to the table top. It is not perfect and I have plenty of dye stains on my table, but it’s better than nothing at all. I have seen others lay down plastic wrap or trash bags or even butcher paper to prevent dye from getting all over the place.
It’s not typically considered a work surface but a stitching pony is your friend if you are hand stitching items. It is like another hand to hold the work, especially if you are doing saddle stitching. Whether you make your own (and I have seen some nice ones) or using one purchased at many fine leathergoods stores, make sure to cover the jaws with leather. This will prevent the jaws from leaving marks on your project. If you are like most of us, you have a full bin of scraps that will work well for covering the jaws.